The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Big Bad Bill

As Michael Oakeshott pointed out several decades ago the rationalism that has come to permeate all of Western thought since the Renaissance reduces human knowledge to technical knowledge, traditions to ideologies, and the art of statecraft to problem-solving.  The reduction of state-craft to problem-solving, the methodology of the engineer, in turn reduces society to a set of designs and blueprints, and the struggles, difficulties, and evils that people face in their everyday lives, to problems awaiting a rational solution from the government.

This approach to the governing of a society is itself problematic.  The troubles that we face as societies and as individuals are not all problems that the government can solve.   Some may simply not have the kind of formulaic, universally applicable, solutions that rationalism looks for.   Others may have solutions, but ones which the government is not particularly suited to find or implement, and which are best left to be worked out by families and individuals for themselves.   When government problem-solving is applied to troubles of these sorts, it is costly and ineffective at best, and at worst will make the problem worse and/or create new problems.

Here in Manitoba, the New Democratic government has recently introduced a bill which is designed to solve the problem of bullying in the schools, particularly cyberbullying. Support for the bill has been drummed up by the main-stream media, the tendency of which, to take private sorrows and elevate them into national crises, only exacerbates the problem of government problem-solving.

Is bullying a problem the government can solve or will the bill only make things worse? 

To determine the answer to this we will need to examine the bill itself.

In evaluating a piece of proposed legislation the first two questions we need to ask are a) what evil is this law intended to prevent, limit, or eliminate and b) what good is this law intended to promote.   After ascertaining the answers to these two questions we must then ask whether the evil and the good are the sort that make legislation necessary to combat the one and desirable to support the other.   These categories do not include all evils and goods and, in fact, probably the vast majority of evils and goods are not of these types.   Legislation always comes with a cost – a social and moral cost as well as an economic cost.   For this reason it is well to accept as a general rule that legislation should reserved for the attainment of goods that are worth the cost and for the combat of evils that cannot be properly dealt with apart from the administration of law.  Once we have determined that the evil a bill is designed to fight requires legislation, and that the good the bill is intended to promote is worth the cost, then we must ask whether the means by which the bill proposes to achieve these worthy ends are the right means.

There is another line of questioning that we need to kind in mind throughout this entire procedure.  It  begins with the question of what other effects the legislation will have other than those it is directly and explicitly intended to accomplish. Are these effects desirable or undesirable?  If the latter, they must be counted as part of the cost of the legislation, and when we come to the question of whether this bill is the appropriate means to its stated ends, we will need to consider whether another means of attaining the same ends that does not produce these undesirable effects is possible.

Having established the method of our inquiry, let us now turn our attention to Manitoba’s Bill 18, The Public Schools Amendment Act (Safe and Inclusive Schools). (1)
The evil that Bill 18 was drawn up to deal with is the evil of bullying among school age children. This  includes bullying of various types, but with a particular emphasis upon a new form of bullying that is called cyberbullying, i.e., bullying by means of technological media, especially cellphones and the internet.   The good that it is designed to promote is identified in the parenthetical clause in the bill’s title “Safe and Inclusive Schools”.  Since safety and inclusivity are two quite different and not obviously related things we will treat them separately when we try to determine whether in fact they are “goods” and if so whether they are goods of the kind that would justify the passing of this bill.

That bullying is an evil hardly seems to need demonstration.  It is a form of cruelty to those who are perceived to be weaker than oneself in one way or another.  Since it serves no end that  is either good or necessary it cannot be said to have any redeeming qualities.  Victims of bullying have often been able to turn their persecution into an opportunity to develop important, positive, character traits such as endurance, courage, and the ability to stand up for oneself.   This does not alter the nature of bullying itself, however, which remains an evil.

The question, however, is whether it is an evil that demands a response in the form of an act of the legislative assembly.   Until very recently, nobody seems to have thought it to have been so.  Bullying in various forms, from relatively mild teasing and put-downs to the more serious extortion of money, food, or servitude from smaller and weaker kids through physical intimidation, has been around for a very long time.  In the past the received wisdom on the subject was that if bullying required an authoritative response from above the authorities most competent to deal with it were parents and the school principal and teachers acting in loco parentis.   It was not the sort of thing one called the police over and certainly not the sort of thing that you introduced a bill in the legislature or parliament over.

If bullying is currently such a problem that an act of government is required then either we have discovered that all previous generations were wrong about the matter or some change has taken place so that what was not necessary before is necessary now.  If it is the latter that means that either bullying itself has evolved to be a more serious menace than it was in the past or that the means by which previous generations dealt with bullies are no longer effective.

Were previous generations wrong about bullying?

That seems extremely difficult to believe.   Past generations possessed a storehouse of accumulated and passed down wisdom which we in the present have ignored and discarded to our own peril.   That wisdom had more to say about bullying than just that parents and teachers were the authorities best suited to deal with it.  It also taught that authorities of any sort, acting from above, could only do so much and that bullying was usually best dealt with in another way.   Bullies are, by nature, cowards.   They do not go out looking for fights where the odds are even or stacked against themselves.  They pick on those weaker and smaller than themselves.   They tend to gather to themselves packs of weak-minded followers to boost their confidence in their own strength.   This insight into the nature of bullying has not exactly been lost but its implications, obvious to earlier generations, have been largely ignored.   If bullies are cowards, the best way to deal with them is to stand up to them and refuse to be intimidated.   If they are not deterred by the mere fact that you refuse to be intimidated then learn to fight back and defend yourself.   Not only is this more effective in deterring bullies than a crackdown by authority on bullying it helps form in the victim of bullying courage and confidence that will help prevent him from developing into a bully himself and which he will need later on in life because bullies are not limited to the schoolyard.

Previous generations appear to have been far more sensible than our own on the subject of bullying as on most other subjects so if anti-bullying legislation is currently necessary it must be because some change has recently taken place.   

Has bullying itself changed and if so is the change such as to make anti-bullying legislation necessary?

The answer to the first part of the question is clearly yes.  The rapid development of communications technology in recent decades has brought about a change in the way bullying takes place.  Today there are countless means of communication available to people through computers, cellular phones, and the various handheld electronic communications devices that have evolved from the latter.   You can communicate with people all around the globe through e-mail, instant messaging, chatrooms, blogs  message boards, and various sorts of online social networks.   You can virtually instantaneously send from one cell or smart phone to another, text messages and visual images, including digital photographs you have taken with the phone itself.   Amazing as all of this technology is it has become an instrument of bullying as well as of communication.   The use of internet era communications technology to harass and intimidate other people is called cyberbullying.

Has the advent of cyberbullying created a need for legislation that was not needed before the age of the internet?

Advocates for legislation like Bill 18 would answer that in the affirmative.  Indeed, the idea that cyberbullying is a greater threat to the wellbeing of children than any form of bullying that antedated the internet is the heart of the argument for anti-bullying legislation.  The recent rash of cyberbullying induced suicides is given as evidence in support of that claim. 

It is natural when something terrible like a suicide takes place, and the cause is traced back to something that is in itself ugly and obnoxious like cyberbullying, to think that something “needs to be done” about it.  This is an ordinary, emotional, response to such an occurrence.  While we should not discount the emotive altogether, we need to resist the impulse to allow ourselves to be driven by it. 

Let us try to think calmly and rationally about the matter. 

Do all cyberbullying victims commit suicide?

No, the vast majority do not.

Why do some cyberbullying victims commit suicide when the majority do not?

There are different reasons.  In some cases it might be because the victim was particularly vulnerable.  In other cases it might be because the cyberbullying was particularly vicious.   This certainly seems to have been the case with the recent suicides of Rehtaeh Parsons in Nova Scotia and Amanda Todd in British Columbia.   The bullying in these cases included felonious behaviour, such as rape in the Parsons case, the distribution of explicit pictures of minors and extortion.   

Which leads us to an important point. Cases of cyberbullying where the victim commits suicide are atypical of bullying cases in general. In cases like those of Rahteah Parsons and Amanda Todd, the cyberbullying involved extreme persecution that broke several already existing laws. How can suicides, committed in response to behaviour that was already illegal, be evidence of the need for provincial and possibly federal legislature, against a more general kind of bad behaviour that does not typically result in suicide?

The other possibility that might justify legislation as a response to bullying today when it was not necessary in the past would be if the means of dealing with the problem in the past are no longer effective today, if the authorities that dealt with it in the past are no longer capable of handling that.   For reasons that will be explained when we return to it we will defer a discussion of this possibility until later.

Let us turn now to the “goods” this bill is supposed to promote and consider safety and inclusivity each in turn.

Just as bullying is undoubtedly an evil, so safety is undoubtedly a good, something to be desired in and of itself.   We want schools to be a safe place for children to go and learn and a bill that has school safety as its end has a laudable goal.   Having said that, safety is not the highest good, not even the highest good of state educational policy.   This qualification is necessary because there are many people who seem to hold a kind of consequentialist belief that school safety is an end which justifies all means.   With reference to Bill 18 this sort of thinking would manifest itself in a conversation similar to the following:

Person A: I do not support Bill 18, I think it is a poorly thought out, knee-jerk reaction to cyberbullying, with a hidden agenda.

Person B: You don’t support Bill 18? You are against school safety? What kind of a monster are you?

The flaw in this kind of reasoning can be demonstrated by a simple hypothetical example.

Suppose the government were to pass a law which placed armed guards and watchdogs in every hall and classroom of every school in the country, required all students to submit to full body searches before entering the building, ordered school authorities to confiscate all personal property that was not immediately needed in the classroom, and basically turned all public schools into day-prisons.

Would this make the schools safer and help prevent future school shootings?


Would this increase in school safety be worth the price of forcing youth to undergo a prisoner’s existence for the duration of their education?

Of course not. A person would have to be insane to think so.

Means need to be evaluated, not independent of, but definitely distinct from, their ends. Bill 18 has a worthy goal in school safety, but that goal does not mean the bill itself deserves our support.

The goal of inclusivity is different from the goal of safety in that inclusivity is not a good in the same way safety is. We do not need to ask the question “safe from what” to know that safety is something to be desired, in and of itself, albeit not necessarily something to be sought whatever the cost. With inclusivity, however, the question “inclusive of what” must always be asked. Inclusivity can be good or bad, depending upon what is being included.

The kind of inclusivity that Bill 18 is designed to promote is not a good.  It is in fact an evil.  It is the very malignant cancer that is eating away at the soul of all Western societies.   It is the inclusivity that is currently the primary ideal of left-liberalism.   The progressive ideal of inclusivity is a combination of the older progressive ideals of equality and universality.   Equality and universality have been ideals of both liberalism and the revolutionary left throughout the Modern Age but until recently they were tempered and modified by other ideals and by the constraints of reality.  Then, after World War II, the left began its crusade against “racism”.   Racism, a word not much older than the Second World War itself, is usually understood to mean prejudice against other people on the basis of their skin colour or ethnic ancestry.   It has been used to describe a wide range of behaviour from telling ethnic jokes and holding ethnic stereotypes to refusing to associate or do business with people of certain races to actively persecuting people of other races.  The left declared racism to be the besetting sin of the Western world.  Progressives reinterpreted the history of Western civilization as one long series of racist assaults on other people that led inevitably to and culminated in the Nazi Holocaust.   They then set out to eliminate Western racism, establishing a no-tolerance policy for white racism in even its mildest forms, while ignoring racism committed by other peoples.   They made it their goal to radically transform all Western societies, from traditional organic societies into which outsiders may be admitted but which maintain a core biological and cultural continuity from one generation to the next into universal societies, with no cultural identity apart from a commitment to universalism and egalitarianism, full membership in which is open to anyone, anywhere on the planet, who wants it.   The progressive ideal of inclusivity began as this new model of society.
It did not end there.   The success of the antiracist crusade led other progressive movements to latch on to the concept of inclusivity for their own causes.  Feminism, a radical movement whose intellectual foundations had been laid in the 19th Century by liberal and revolutionary writers like Mary Wollstonecraft and Friedrich Engels, had achieved success early in the 20th Century in its demands for political, educational and legal rights for women.  In the 1960s it was reborn with a new goal – the equal inclusion of women in all areas and aspects of society that had previously been exclusively or primarily the domain of men.  Around the same time the sexual liberation movement, which demanded the abolition of traditional moral constraints on human sexuality, began to gain momentum.   It too adopted the language of inclusivity.  Traditionally Western societies had defined forms of sexual behaviour other than heterosexual, monogamous, marriage as being morally deviant.  The sexual liberation movement insisted that the standards be changed to be more inclusive of alternative forms of sexual behaviour.  One particular branch of the sexual liberation movement was especially successful in adapting the ideal of inclusivity to its own ends.  That was the gay rights movement.   Traditionally, Western societies had, for obvious reasons, regarded it as being normal and desirable that men be sexually attracted to women, and vice versa, that they form monogamous relationships, and have and raise children together.   The gay rights movement insisted that the definition of normal be changed to include attraction and relationships between people of the same sex, that these relationships be regarded as equal to heterosexual relationships, that heterosexual relationships in no way be privileged over homosexual relationships, and indeed that society bend over backwards to include homosexuals in the distinctly heterosexual world of marriage and child rearing, by redefining marriage and allowing homosexuals to adopt children.

All of this nonsense is wrapped up in what the authors of Bill 18 mean when they say the bill will help make schools more “inclusive”.  The bill itself makes that explicit.  Section 4 (2) of the bill would add a subsection 41 (1.8) to the Public Schools Act which would read:

A respect from human diversity policy must accommodate pupils who want to establish and lead activities and organizations that

a) promote

(i) gender equity,
(ii) antiracism,
(iii) the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people who are disabled by barriers, or
(iv) the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities; and

b) use the name “gay-straight alliance” or any other name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils.

It would seem that the people behind this bill are exploiting the suffering of cyberbullying victims in order to promote a progressive, left-wing agenda.   This is rather distasteful, showing the complete lack of class we have come to expect from the New Democratic Party.   Even if that were not the case, however, this particular progressive agenda would be objectionable. 

Family is more important than business. The home is more important than the marketplace or the halls of government. The purpose of education is to prepare children to be responsible, adult members of society. Being responsible, adult, members of society includes many things of varying degrees of importance. The duties and responsibilities of behind a husband and father for men, and of being a wife and mother for women, are more important than the pursuit of a profession or career. The preparing of boys to be husbands and fathers and of girls to be wives and mothers is a part of education that is best done by parents in the home rather than teachers in the school, but the education provided in the schools should be supportive of this effort in the home and not subversive of it. “Gender equity” is neither consistent with nor compatible with this family-centric view of things. A school “human diversity policy” that requires the promotion of gender equity would be subversive of the role of parents in the home.

In theory, antiracism means opposition to unfounded prejudice against and/or mistreatment of people of other races and to the ideological exaltation of one’s own race as superior to others or destined to rule others. In reality antiracism is itself an irrational prejudice against white people. Antiracists typically believe that racism is most prevalent or even only found among people of white European ancestry, when in reality, it is the extreme tolerance of other people to the detriment of one’s own that we call “liberalism” that is the moral disease of the Caucasians. Antiracists treat the slightest verbal expression of racial prejudice on the part of a white person as the moral equivalent of leprosy, requiring the person who uttered it to be exiled and ostracized from the community while dismissing the idea that acts of criminal violence against white people by people of other races could possibly be motivated by racial prejudice.

There is also a great deal of irony to the fact that a bill that is purportedly against cyberbullying would be promoting antiracism.   You can see this irony for yourself, if you care to plunge into the Stygean depths of the netherworld of the internet, by checking out the blog known as Anti-Racist Canada.  You will see that the author or authors of the blog, who hide behind the anonymity of pseudonyms like noonespecial200 or nosferatu200, occupy a large part of their time and bandwidth in such activities as tracking down the online activities of obscure, “white pride” or “white power” groups, “outing” their members, infiltrating their Facebook and/or other social media connections, reposting their pictures and words, and subjecting them to ridicule.   You can judge for yourselves whether in all of this the “ARC Collective” is engaged in a valuable public service or whether they are just facilitating the future perpetual harassment of the people they write about and, if the latter, whether this is not a classic example of cyberbullying.

If it is objectionable that the public schools be used as instruments for propagating the progressive agenda of gender equity and antiracism, it is that much more odious that they would be used to promote the “awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.”  Do not let the white-washed language fool you.  A program designed to promote “the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities” will not merely be telling children “you should not harass, bully, or otherwise be mean to people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or whatever” but  rather “you are not allowed to think that for men to be sexually attracted to women, and women to be sexually attracted to men, is more natural, normal or right than whatever other alternatives are out there”.   If that were not the case, this part of the bill would not even be controversial, for the opponents of the bill are not arguing for the position, which few if any hold, that people who are not heterosexual ought to be bullied.

This part of the bill is even more subversive of parental authority than the clause about the promotion of gender equity. An important part of parenthood is raising your son to be a good father and husband himself, and raising your daughter to be a good wife and mother herself. Parents should not expect the schools to do their job for them but they have the right to expect that the schools they send their children too will not be actively subverting their authority and hindering them from doing their job. The task of preparing your son to be a good father and husband, or your daughter to be a good wife and mother, requires the assumption that your son will eventually be a father and husband and that your daughter will eventually be a wife and mother, the assumption of heterosexuality as the default and the norm. To attempt to eliminate the idea of heterosexuality as the norm or default on the grounds of an ideological notion of inclusivity is to undermine a fundamental element of the task of parenthood. To turn schools, with which parents entrust the education of their children, into institutions for the propagation of ideology that undermines their raising of their children, is particularly and extremely obscene.

We have seen that bullying, the evil which Bill 18 is designed to combat, has until very recently been left to the authority of parents and teachers and that it is questionable that it requires a legislative response today. We have seen that one of the goods Bill 18 is designed to promote, safety, while unquestionably a good, is not a good to be attained by any and all means possible and that the kind of inclusivity the bill is intended to promote is not a good at all but an evil. Since the bill has therefore failed the test of ends, the test of means is unnecessary, but we will submit the bill to that test nonetheless.

The main thing Bill 18 sets out to do is to amend the Public Schools Act to include a definition of bullying. Section 3 of the bill includes three subsections that would be inserted into the Public Schools Act as Section 1.2. The first of these gives a definition of bullying, the second specifies characteristics and forms of bullying, and the third states that the person who “intentionally assists of encourages the bullying behaviour in any way” is to be considered as participating in the bullying alongside the person who is directly carrying it out. The definition of bullying reads as follows:

In this Act, “bullying” is behaviour that

(a) is intended to cause, or should be known to cause, fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other forms of harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property; or

(b) is intended to create, or should be known to create, a negative school environment for another person.

Definitions can err by being either too broad or too narrow. A definition that is too broad includes too much. An example would be to define water as “a liquid”. This would include all liquids in the definition of water, regardless of their chemical substance. A definition that is too narrow excludes things which should not be excluded. If one were to define a liquid as “water”, for example, this would exclude all liquids that are not water.

This is a definition that is way too broad. The presence of virtually anything that a person objects to could be said to create “a negative school environment” for that person. The action that creates “a negative school environment” doesn’t even have to be intentional, it just has to be something that “should be known to” have that effect, which is an extremely vague way of putting it. Who exactly is supposed to decide what “should be known to” have these effects and what should not? Furthermore, everything that hurts someone’s feelings is included in this definition, with the same qualifications as pertain to the creating of a negative school environment.

The effects of defining bullying so broadly can only be bad. If this definition is included in the Public Schools Act, and school boards are required to incorporate it into their policies on bullying, it will mean that school officials will be required to administer and police social interaction, especially social interaction, between their students. It will mean that every thought students express, every word they say, will be subject to review to determine that no one else’s feelings are hurt by it. The difference between this and the hypothetical armed guard/watchdog policy discussed earlier when considering the objective of school safety is only one of degree, not of kind.

Bill 18 is clearly not the solution to the problem of bullying.

Is there a solution to the problem?

If there is, I doubt it would look anything like Bill 18. While legislation like Bill 18 is peddled by the government and its media supporters as giving tools to school boards, principals, and teachers to fight bullying, all it really accomplishes is to interject further provincial government control into the educational system. Earlier, in considering the question of whether bullying is now a problem that requires legislation, we deferred the question of whether the authorities that dealt with bullying in the past, parents and teachers, were no longer competent to do so. That is a question more appropriately considered here, in the contemplation of alternative solutions to bullying, because of an interesting paradox. A case can indeed be made that parents and teachers, who were capable of dealing with the problem of bullying in the past, are no longer capable of doing so. The authority of parents and of teachers has undeniably been greatly eroded in recent decades, which would certainly undermine their ability to deal with bullying. Yet, although this fulfils one of the conditions which could potentially make anti-bullying legislation necessary now when it was not in the past, ironically such legislation itself would contribute to the very situation which has been eroding parental authority.

Over the last century or so a transformation has taken place in public education. Originally a very decentralized affair, in which neighborhood schools and their boards were directly answerable to the parents of the students, and government control was minimal, it has evolved through a number of means, such as the infusion of funds from the government and previous progressive campaigns to establish uniform educational standards and the like, into a highly centralized system that is basically the educational branch of the government. This changed the role and authority of teachers. Their authority had originally been derived from that of the parents to whom they were deputies of a sort and who generally stood behind them and upheld their authority. As government gained control of education the basis of the teacher’s authority shifted and the teacher became more the agent of government than the deputy of the parent. Parents and teachers became more competing, rather than cooperating, authorities, especially since the new government-controlled educational system was increasingly used by progressive forces to subvert traditional authorities and institutions. This weakened the authority of parents and teachers alike.

If this decay in the authority of parents and teachers has contributed to the present problem of bullying, which it has, and Bill 18 would add to one of the biggest reasons for that decay in authority, which it would, then perhaps the solution to the bullying problem lies in the exact opposite direction, a relinquishing of government control of education, devolution of educational authority back to local school boards, the re-establishment of parental control over their children’s education, including their right to send their children to schools where they won’t have politically correct nonsense shoved down their throats.

It would at least be a start.

1 comment:

  1. WOW!! SO GOOD!! I'm going to send this to everyone in the provincial legislature!